Staunton, July 21 – Speakers of non-Russian languages in Russia have declined in number across the board over the last two decades, the period of Vladimir Putin’s time in power; and they are set to fall still further given the Kremlin leader’s hostility toward them and the accompanying dramatic falloffs in the number of instructors in these languages.
According to statistics from the last two Russian censuses in 2010 and 2020/21 gathered by the To Be Exact portal, only three non-Russian languages showed an increase in the number of speakers during that period – Chechen, Tuvin and Tat (tochno.st/materials/v-respublikakh-rossii-bolshe-30-yazykov-kotorye-mogli-by-ispolzovatsya-naravne-s-russkim-no-mnogie-iz-nikh-perezhivayut-upadok-rasskazyvaem-pochemu-tak-proiskhodit).
The greatest declines were among the Finno-Ugric peoples where the number of speakers between the two censuses fell 40 percent or more. The worse case was that of the Karelians, who saw the number of their language’s speaker fall by 74 percent. Karelian is the only titular language of a non-Russian republic that does not have any official status.
Since 2005, linguists say, Putin has been promoting the use of Russian and doing what he can to discourage and finally block non-Russians from studying their own languages, first and foremost outside the republics where they are titular peoples but increasingly within the non-Russian republics as well.
In some cases, instruction in non-Russian languages has come to a complete end, To Be Exact reports. “If in 2016, 5,000 children of all age groups under 18 studied Kalmyk but five years later, in 2021, there did not remain a single student doing so. The same thing happened with Tat, Ingush, Khakass, Altay, Chechen and Adygey.”
Even where such instruction did not end, the number of pupils studying in these languages fell dramatically. In 2016, 293,000 pupils studied in languages other than Russian; but in 2022, only 186,000 did so. And this trend is almost certain to continue because of radical declines in the number of teachers.
In 2009, there were 22,000 teachers using non-Russian languages; but in 2020, there were only 16,000.
Putin and some analysts see this as a natural and even positive development, but some experts are warning about a backlash. Shlomo Veber of Moscow’s Russian School of Economics says that this suppression of non-Russian languages isn’t reducing secessionist sentiments as Putin imagines but producing them.
That is because the non-Russians are learning that as far as their government is concerned, they are second class citizens and their languages are fated to disappear. Those who don’t want that outcome are thus increasingly thinking about leaving, exactly the opposite outcome the Kremlin would like to see.